News — 14 August 2009

Less than five weeks remain until the citys five new middle schools open their doors to students on the day after Labor Day and, with time at a premium, school leaders are doing everything they can to make sure their facilities are ready.

At the Francis C. Hammond school campus, known for years as simply Francis C. Hammond Middle School, Principal Keisha Boggans temporary office is a hub of activity as she prepares her new school, FCH 1, for students arrival next month.

On the one hand, its all sorts of details, but on the other its really exciting too, Boggan said. The fact that we are charting new territory is exciting.

That new territory exists in the other corridors of Hammond and George Washington, the citys other former middle school, where more than 900 students will be divided into two smaller schools within the same building GW 1 and GW 2 with roughly 450 students each in grades six through eight.

Hammond, the larger of the two campuses, is home to Boggans FCH 1 as well as FCH 2 and FCH 3.
The most important [new concept] is that the kids will be known by a small number of teachers across three years, said Margee Walsh, executive director of secondary education, of the change from the former school model in which students dealt with a different set of teachers and administrators each year.

Walsh said that the new schools provide a more personalized educational environment where students have stronger relationships with teachers and staff who will, in turn, be much more invested in a students success.

This time, theyll have the same principal, the same associate principal, the same counselor and the same group of teachers all three years, said Amy Carlini, the schools director of communications, comparing the new school structure to the older, more rigid one.

Boggan said she probably knew every nook and cranny of the former G.W. middle school after her years as a student and later as a teacher and administrator but has yet to master her portion of the Hammond building, which remains a work in progress halfway through the summer break.

With the building being repainted and most classroom furniture lining the hallways, it would be a labyrinth for a seasoned veteran to navigate. Add to that the planning and behind-the-scenes organizing necessary to structure a newly organized one, and even 10-hour days wont have time enough for everything.

Most days, Boggan said she is at the school from about 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. but has yet to take the time to really plot the landscape of her new office. There, too, renovations are in their final stages.

It has to be right, because it has to be something thats inviting to parents and to the community, Boggan said. But its not something you want to spend a tremendous amount of time on because the real work is making sure youre ready for the kids, making sure the classrooms are ready to go.

Hammond and G.W. had work planned for this summer painting and other projects prior to the decision to change the middle school model, which helped give the existing plans more direction.
What we wanted was to have separate entrances so the kids would know they were going to their school, Walsh said of the summer projects, which are not the last changes the schools plan to see in the next few years.

Due to the historic significance of the names at each middle school campus and other factors, there is no hard and fast timetable to pick permanent names for the five new schools, school officials have said. The existing names will stand for the campuses, but the students in the individual schools will be central in the process of picking a new name, mascot and school colors.

Once the schools choose their colors they will probably paint stripes or accents in that color and do some things with the floors or the signage to give that school an identity within the building, Carlini said.

Although the teachers have had their assignments for more than a month and students already have their schedules, the last pieces of the puzzle to fall into place are the students choices for new enrichment courses being offered. The classes, referred to as PACE courses, serve to bolster the existing curriculum and let students learn in different ways.

The PACE opportunity is just a small piece of what were trying to do but it is new so its getting a lot of buzz, Walsh said. Its an opportunity to have kids study something that theyre really interested in or want to explore or strengthen a subject area that theyre already studying.
In about a week, Walsh said the schools should know what PACE courses students wanted to take, choosing from a list that included courses in journalism and creative expression, math programs, a young detectives course, debate team, jazz ensemble, a stock market game, a geography bee and science offerings like the JASON Project.

Theres a way to say, You dont have to give up athletics, you can still do your music, do your world languages and be an athlete, Walsh said. Its all possible.

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